Friday, 16 August 2013

Hamlet as a Tragic Hero


Exceptional Individual

            Like other tragic heroes of Shakespeare, Hamlet is also endowed with exceptional qualities like royal birth, graceful and charming personality and popularity among his own countrymen. He has a high intellectual quality as Ophelia observes

       O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
         The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword,
         The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
         The glass of fashion, and the mould of form,
         The observed of all observers.

The Tragic Flaw

            Like a true Aristotelian hero Hamlet has a tragic flaw in his character. He thinks too much and feels too much. He is often disturbed by his own nature of self analysis. Coleridge says that his enormous intellectual activity prevents instant action and the result is delay and irresolution. Bradley is of the view that his thoughts are diseased thoughts. What is required of Hamlet is prompt action, whereas he broods over the moral idealism, which leads to his delay in action. When he gets an opportunity to kill Claudius, he puts aside the thought because he cannot strike an enemy while he is at prayer. He feels he should kill Claudius

When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage
                        Or in th' incestuous pleasure of his bed,
At game swearing.

Causes For Inaction

            By nature he is prone to think rather than to act. He is a man of morals and his moral idealism receives a shock when his mother remarries Claudius after his father's death. Chance, too, plays an important part in shaping his character. Chance places him in such a position in which he is incapable of doing anything. He feels sad at his position and says

The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right.

Conflict--- Internal And External

            Like other tragic heroes Hamlet has to face conflict, internal and external. The internal conflict is in his moral scruples and the act of revenge. Love of his father, the dishonor of his mother, and the villainy of his uncle prompts him to take revenge while his nobility, his moral idealism, his principles, and his religion revolts against such a brutal act. The result is that, torn within himself, he suffers mental torture.

          The external conflict is with Claudius--the murderer of Hamlet's father. Claudius is a smiling villain, a seducer and a usurper of his rights to Denmark's throne. He is one against whom he has to take revenge. The other incidents of external conflicts are with Laertes, his friend and the brother of his beloved Ophelia; with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, his former school fellows and friends but present enemies.

Character Or Destiny?

            Character is not the only factor that is responsible for the tragedy of Hamlet. External circumstances should also be kept in the analysis. Many of the things that take place in Hamlet's life are by chance but none of these improbable. He kills Polonius by chance. The ship in which he travels is attacked by pirates and his return to Denmark in nothing but chance. But the sense of fate is never so overwhelming as to cast character in shade. After all, it is Hamlet himself who is responsible for his tragedy.

          Though Hamlet possesses all the qualities of Shakespeare's tragic hero, yet he is different from the other. He is the only tragic hero who evokes the sympathy of the readers at all times. As Hazlitt remarks, The distresses of Hamlet are transferred by the turn of his mind, to the general account of humanity. Whatever happens to him, we apply to ourselves’. This is what makes Hamlet universal as well as a unique hero.

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